People — 06 October 2017
Why a private school education still matters

By Greg Carannante

City & Shore Magazine

Let’s just say it was not your typical day at Saint Andrew’s.

The visitor standing in a fourth-grade classroom of the Orlando-area Catholic school earlier this year was none other than the President of the United States. Donald Trump had come to wave the flag in his push for school choice by drawing attention to a Florida tuition-assistance program that enables hundreds of low-income students to attend the private school. Joined by his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Trump touted the program as no less than the future of education in America. The media event not only shone a bright new spotlight on private schools, but also drew a few more lines under the question: Why do they matter?

We asked that question to a few local private school educators. On the following pages, their replies resonate with the touchstones of the private school domain: shared values, smaller class sizes and enriched opportunities; unique curriculum, classroom culture and love of learning. They speak not only from their experience but also with a conviction — beyond any political spotlight on private schools — that matter they do.

Teacher: Oscar Cedeno

School: Cardinal Gibbons Catholic High School, Fort Lauderdale, cghsfl.org

Position: Dean of Students,
11th-grade U.S. History

Experience: One year at Cardinal Gibbons, six years at private Catholic high schools

C&S: Why does a private school education matter and how is that reflected at your school?

OC: I am private Catholic education through and through. I have attended Catholic schools my entire life, from Blessed Trinity to Immaculata-La Salle High School to Barry and St. Thomas Universities. Private school education has that unique ability to bring in particular values that go hand-in-hand with education. Specifically in our Catholic schools, we provide a well-rounded college preparatory education intertwined with the faith formation based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. At Cardinal Gibbons and throughout the Archdiocese of Miami, this is rooted in the fundamental virtues of faith, hope and love. It helps make Cardinal Gibbons a second home away from home for our students, where they truly become part of a family here in this small corner of Fort Lauderdale.

C&S: What is your personal philosophy of education and how does your school enable you to practice it?

OC: My personal philosophy in and out of the classroom has always been rooted in one of the themes of Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The title of the book refers to the main character’s idea of kids running and playing in a tall rye field where, unbeknownst to them, there is a cliff at the edge of the field. I relate this to our students’ transition to adulthood after graduation. My job as an educator is to prepare them for the cliff — some of them can traverse down the cliff gracefully while others take a blind nose-dive.

C&S: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a teacher at your school?

OC: The most rewarding experience is always every time a former student comes back or contacts you to express to you their gratitude about the reality of life ahead of them. In high school their view is short-sighted and usually doesn’t go beyond the next weekend. Opening their eyes and teaching them to see the big picture about life will go on with them forever.


 

Teacher: Jon Fishman 

School: North Broward Preparatory School, Coconut Creek, nordangliaeducation.com

Position: Sixth-grade English, middle school Student Government Advisor

Experience: 21 years at
North Broward Preparatory

C&S: Why does a private school education matter and how is that reflected at your school?

JF: A private school education allows a child to have enriched academic opportunities, and experience the benefit of smaller classes with dedicated teachers, specifically trained in child development for today’s world, and to prepare them for the future. At North Broward Prep, we’re extremely invested in each individual student. We strive to continually challenge them within their areas of strength, and to develop an individual plan for each student to reach his or her full potential. At any given time, in any class, you can feel a palpable energy.

C&S: What is your personal philosophy of education and how does your school enable you to practice it?

JF: North Broward Prep shines in teaching critical thinking, complex problem-solving and high-order reasoning to its students. With all the access kids have to the world through technology, it’s up to me to come up with new ways to engage them. Instead of just stacking teaching topics, I infuse relevant extras into our days to captivate them and create a lesson they’ll remember. One day, we’re reading a scene from Romeo and Juliet, and the next day, you might find us working on a class collaboration of making a wall-sized mosaic of Romeo and Juliet.

C&S: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a teacher at your school?

JF: Within my English classes, I spend time with my students looking at iconic pieces of art. I want my students to develop the practice of giving something more than just a quick glance, and to take the time to really look, ponder and analyze it. I once taught a lesson on Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and a student came up to me and said, ‘If I never sat in this class, I would’ve never seen how beautiful that piece is.’ I’ll never forget the sincerity of her words, and how great it was to know that I might have opened up a door for her to have a lifelong appreciation of art.


 

Teacher: Jessica Laliberte 

School: Saint Andrew’s School, Boca Raton, saintandrews.net

Position: Sixth-grade Language Arts and Literature as well as Grade 6 Chair. Also a member of the Resident Life Community of nearly 100 boarding students.

Experience: Five years at Saint Andrew’s, 17 years in education.

C&S: Why does a private school education matter and how is that reflected at your school?

JL: Private schools are often places where students find themselves on a path of self-discovery, while simultaneously being members of a community. This is possible because teachers believe not only in the students they teach here, but also in the institution itself. Saint Andrew’s is a day and boarding school whose students come from all over the world to be ‘Scots,’ and with them they bring their own unique cultures, aptitudes and personalities. When students graduate, they know Saint Andrew’s will always be a place that welcomes and understands them.

C&S:What is your personal philosophy of education and how does your school enable you to practice it?

JL: First, I consider teaching to be a form of art. Like an artist, every day I face a blank canvas that I must fill using my passion, knowledge, expertise and creativity; for example, an empty classroom that eventually bubbles up with adolescents, a lesson that has yet to be taught, a student that has yet to be reached. Inevitably, the questions my students ask and the observations I make influence how my lessons evolve and change to meet their needs. This place of evolution is where my best teaching happens.

The second part has more to do with the kind of person I am when I teach. My words and actions in my classroom are the truest expressions of my values. And what I most value in a classroom is the building of trust, respect, risk-taking and vulnerability. I cultivate a climate of trust and safety by expressing myself authentically and with my own imperfections. Once my students realize that my classroom is a safe place, free from judgment, they begin to imagine themselves reaching even greater heights.

C&S: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a teacher at your school?

JL: The most rewarding experiences for me happen daily — when I see students who clearly have been anxious about their learning finally ‘exhale’ and let that worry go because they know that I believe in them and they know that they can do it.


 

Teacher: Stacey Parkinson

School: St. Mark’s Episcopal School,
Fort Lauderdale, saintmarks.com

Position: Second-grade teacher

Experience: Over 20 years at St. Mark’s, from kindergarten teacher assistant to science lab for grades 1-4.

C&S: Why does a private school education matter and how is that reflected at your school?

SP: Private schools, like St. Mark’s, offer excellent academic curriculums as well as a vast variety of enrichments and extracurricular activities. The students can choose to be involved in sports and/or the arts. They are encouraged to challenge themselves and excel in areas that interest them.

My husband and I chose to send our children to St. Mark’s because it has a stellar reputation of academic excellence taught within a Christian framework. I enjoyed working with the students so much that I became a certified teacher. Our children both attended St. Mark’s for 10 years and were very well-prepared for the rigors of high school and college. Both are self-confident, successful adults pursuing careers in the field of medicine. We credit St. Mark’s with helping to foster in them a love of learning and confidence in their abilities to be successful. Through service opportunities offered at St. Mark’s, they grew into compassionate, caring individuals who chose careers in the care and service to others.

 

C&S: What is your personal philosophy of education and how does your school enable you to practice it?

SP: I look at each of my students as individuals with specific academic, emotional and social needs. St. Mark’s offers small class sizes. This results in a very low teacher/student ratio, allowing for more one-on-one instruction to meet each student’s individual needs. The curriculum is differentiated to focus on the skills each student needs reinforced or enriched.

 

C&S: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a teacher at your school?

SP: Each spring, St. Mark’s invites the seniors in high school who are alumni of St. Mark’s to come back for lunch with the eighth-graders. These students enthusiastically share their experiences and give advice to our students preparing for high school. These testimonials make us realize and appreciate the impact we have had. Additionally, several students who graduated from St. Mark’s are currently teachers at the school. I think this speaks volumes about their positive experience and support of our school.


 

Teacher: Sari Weltmann

School: American Heritage School, Plantation and Boca/Delray campuses, ahschool.com

Position: Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction, formerly seventh- and eighth-grade English

Experience: 10 years at American Heritage, seven years at Broward public schools

C&S: Why does a private school education matter and how is that reflected at your school? 

SW: A private school education, especially at American Heritage, affords students opportunities and exposure to avenues of learning they might not get elsewhere. Beyond being college preparatory, Heritage embodies the essence of a whole-child education with attention not only to core academics, but to a vast offering of fine arts, athletics, pre-professional programs and community service involvement. All serve to meet Heritage’s mission to incorporate ‘Knowledge, Integrity and Compassion’ in every child’s education.

C&S: What is your personal philosophy of education and how does your school enable you to practice it?

SW: My philosophy of education is: To educate young minds means to give students the framework to formulate their own views and become thinking, caring, productive individuals. Heritage enables its educators to practice this by allowing its teachers to act on behalf of their students to develop a unique curriculum — one that is not bound by state-mandated tests or pendulum-swinging directives. Heritage’s dynamic curriculum has a constant finger on the pulse of research-based instructional goals and our students’ needs. I personally practice my philosophy by leading professional learning groups where teachers develop curriculum to this end. I re-read my 20-year-old portfolio from my master’s program to see what I’d written about my personal philosophy — it’s funny to see how close it is to Heritage’s mantra!

C&S: What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as a teacher  at your school?

SW: I can’t narrow it down to one! The most rewarding experiences for me have been watching my own children grow up and learn at Heritage — we truly are one big family; having my previous junior high students tell me about their successes in high school; and finally, seeing the implementation of our teacher-developed curriculum in action and its positive effects on the students.

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